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Luxury housing in Santa Paula wins on third try

Times Staff Writer

Santa Paula voters have overwhelmingly approved plans to expand the city’s development boundaries to include neighboring Adams Canyon, clearing the path to build hundreds of luxury homes, a private golf course and a 200-room hotel-spa.

Roughly 61% of those who cast ballots in Tuesday’s special election voted to support Measure A7, which would amend the city’s general plan to encompass the canyon area at the northwest end of town.

The initiative was approved by 2,485 votes in favor and 1,581 against, Ventura County elections officials said.

“It was a very strong victory for the project; it didn’t just creep by,” said Santa Paula Vice Mayor John Procter. “It’s very impressive, especially since this is the first time a project like this has passed in the county.”

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The election was the third since November 2002 that voters in the semi-rural town of 29,000 have weighed in on whether to allow development in the canyon. Both earlier efforts failed.

Ventura County Supervisor Kathy Long, whose District 3 includes Santa Paula, said the city would now begin the process of annexing the canyon, currently under county jurisdiction.

“The community has the right to look at these land-use decisions and determine their own destiny,” Long said.

A grass-roots campaign led by residents -- including City Councilman Bob Gonzales, Santa Paula’s former police chief -- took a plan voters defeated in April 2006, made slight revisions and campaigned hard to convince their neighbors that the financially strapped city needed Adams Preserve.

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Pinnacle Development Group, an Arizona developer, joined with Arnold Dahlberg of San Diego County, owner of 4,700 acres of canyon property north of Santa Paula, to propose the project. It calls for up to 495 large homes on lots averaging 12 acres, a 200-room hotel and spa, and an 18-hole golf course.

The custom lots would include homes that could generate property taxes of about $5 million annually to the city after 20 years, once the project is completed, officials said.

John Blanchard, president and chief executive of the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, said the city has a reputation as being hostile to development.

“This town hasn’t grown, it’s a little island in the middle of Ventura County, but development has passed it by time, after time, after time,” Blanchard said. “We’re hopeful this signals a turnaround, that there will be some growth in Adams Canyon, and at least it’s going to be Santa Paula’s income when something is put in.”

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Supervisor Steve Bennett, one of the original authors of the county’s growth-control laws, said many still consider Adams Preserve to be a sprawl-inducing project but that he did not expect any further challenges. He pointed out that Pinnacle Development spent about $1 million to push its project in 2006 compared with about $30,000 by the opposition.

“Our involvement is to help local people run a credible campaign, so the pro-development forces don’t dominate the campaign,” he said.

Bennett rejected the idea that Tuesday’s vote is the beginning of the end for local slow-growth, saying Santa Paula has always been weak in its support of the county’s growth-control laws.

“It is unique to Santa Paula.... It’s not representative of the thinking in Simi Valley, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks or in Ventura,” he said.

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Bill Fulton, an urban planning expert and Ventura city councilman, agreed the Adams Canyon decision is specific to mostly blue-collar Santa Paula.

“You have to factor in that Santa Paula is a very poor city,” he said. “You could have gone through exactly the same process in Thousand Oaks and I doubt if it would have passed under any circumstances.”

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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